Easter for Everybody!

  • Easter  for   Everybody!
Issue 22, March 2010.

Catholic and Orthodox Easter Sunday celebrations,
April 4, events across town

This year sees the religious calendars of the Catholic and Orthodox churches coincide on Easter Sunday. This shared date is particularly poignant in multidenominational Lviv, a city which has sat upon the crossroads of the Orthodox and Catholic worlds for centuries and which boasts a staggering array of churches and cathedrals serving the spiritual needs of both communities. With its echoes of the pagan past and associations with springtime fertility rites, Easter is always a major holiday in Lviv, and this year will be a double celebration which will also highlight the strength of sectarian solidarity in this cosmopolitan city.

Biggest holiday of the year
Easter has always been the biggest religious celebration of the year in Ukraine – hardly surprising given the extent to which Ukrainian folklore remains saturated by the influences and imagery of the pre-Christian past. Ancient Ukrainians celebrated Easter as the coming of the New Year and the return of fertility, hence the popularization of the egg as the holiday’s most prominent symbol. With the arrival of Christianity Easter was transformed into a celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, but the holiday has maintained many of its more ancient pagan elements. In Ukraine Easter is generally called ‘Velykden’ (literally “Great Day”) and is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s most important holiday. For religious Ukrainians the Lenten period prior to Easter Day is a time of fasting and preparations, before the colourful celebrations of Easter Day itself. Lviv’s churches and houses of worship are never fuller than on Easter Sunday and on the night before Easter, when many hold all-night vigils at which the faithful repent for their sins and remember the suffering of Christ. On Easter morning churchgoers take baskets of special Easter bread and decorated eggs along with them to often joyous services. These traditional holiday foodstuffs are then blessed by priests. Meanwhile, Lviv natives put their standard greetings of ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ to one side and spend the holiday period greeting each other by saying: ‘Christ has risen!” The standard reply is: “Truly arisen!” Feasts are common on Easter Day itself, with many finally loosening the bonds of the rigid Lenten fasts and returning to the gluttony of a traditional Ukrainian holiday celebration.  
Easter’s role as the New Year celebration of the pre-Christian era is remembered in the dominant role that eggs continue to play in the mythology of modern Eastern celebrations. But while many in Western Europe and North America associate Easter with chocolate eggs, for Ukrainians the link to the pagan past is recalled in a far  more traditional manner. The most famous symbol of Ukraine’s unique and ancient Easter celebrations remains the country’s tradition of distinctive decorated Easter eggs. Known locally as Pysanka, these eggs are decorated in different styles and with a variety of patterns depending on the region of Ukraine. Genuine Pysanki are not meant to be eaten but are meant to be kept as a prized possession and symbol of friendship and respect. As a rule, older people should be given more complex Pysanki as their lives are fuller and the egg should reflect the complexity of their lives, whereas younger people should be given brighter, more simplistic designs as a way of acknowledging that they are just beginning to find their way in life. Krashanky, or brightly coloured eggs dyed using vegetable dye , are perhaps even more illustrative of the ancient pagan roots and folklore inheritance
of Ukraine’s Easter traditions. Ukrainians have been making these brightly coloured eggs for as long as records exist and they have been an essential element of the spring rites associated with the Easter festival. Wherever you
go on Easter Day in Lviv you will encounter these dyed eggs in their sparkling yet simple originality, often being carried in traditional wicker baskets. The decorated shells usually contain hard-boiled eggs and are a central element in any Easter feast. Guests can entertain themselves by bashing their Krashanky together and seeing who has the tougher shell.